When Jones Act waivers become political

Providing aid to the survivors of hurricanes and other natural disasters as rapidly as we can should always be our first priority. However, I am concerned about how quickly we grant Jones Act waivers and allow foreign shippers to move supplies without first giving a chance for our U.S. shipping industry to effectively respond.

I feel that some politicians and many media outlets incorrectly discount U.S. shippers in times of national need. Why do they assume that U.S. shippers and mariners cannot get the job done? I think the answer is rooted in misplaced emotion and a lack of understanding of the U.S. shipping industry. They aren’t aware that we have both the ships and mariners available in times of need.

Think about the many different types of U.S. commercial vessels of that carried thousands of our citizens safely from New York City after the 9/11 attacks. And don’t forget the ferries that rescued passengers of the ill-fated U.S. Air flight 1549 on the Hudson River. There are countless other water-based rescues that go unnoticed nationwide each year.

Many don’t understand the Jones Act and its importance to our country and the maritime industry. According to law, the Jones Act can only be waived in the interest of national defense. However, the Bush administration set precedent by waiving the law to respond to fuel shortages caused by several hurricanes. As a result, the nation now quickly seeks Jones Act waivers in response to national disasters. Somehow we now believe that the Jones Act gets in the way of or prevents us from adequately responding to disasters. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. U.S. companies such as Tote, Crowley and many others have the ability and resources to efficiently respond.

Some politicians have referred to the Jones Act as being arcane, outdated, and called for its repeal. Caving in to political pressure to grant Jones Act waivers plays directly into the hands of international shippers and others who would like to expand their businesses. They would undercut U.S. shippers, shipyards and shipyard workers, suppliers and, of course, U.S. mariners. We have the resources, talent, technology and the expertise to respond effectively to any national disaster or need.

Let’s not jump the gun in the future after hurricanes hit and overlook U.S. shipping resources. We can get the job done for our citizens and the nation.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or abernstein@bbriverboats.com.


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    Clark Dodge C/E on

    All I can say is thank you Captain Bernstein: As a MEBA Chief Engineer retired my self I must agree with you 100%. When I read of the Jones Act Waver I was greatly concerned as well. I called many of my friends in the major Labor Unions who all said of course we have ships and crews, but it is not allowed without the GO from the President. Trump needs to stop with the FAKE NEWA and get the American People of Puerto Rico the help and supplies they need. I have yet to see one Power & Light Truck or crews working on the power lines. With all the damage done they could be trenching the major routes and burying the Power, Phone, Cable, Gas Lines, Water and Sewer underground. If some companies are not ready yet simply bury the plastic pipes and snake in the lines later. This would get the main infrastructure going and the lines to homes and business can be added as time and crews are available.

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    To many politicians pass laws, add amendments to bills to suit their big donors, not the Americans they serve. Why people like McCain want to repeal a law that supports American security is only understandable when you consider where their reelection money comes from. Apparently politicians only are concerned about money to stay in office, not the fate of the country.

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    Well said Captain. The bell to maintain our invaluable American maritime industry must continue to ring loud and clear. Most Americans have no knowledge of the great necessity and vast abilities of our maritime industry, and less of the “Jones Act” that helps protect it. Thanks for speaking out.

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